One Woman’s Mission: Helping Women Empower Each Other in Any Walk of Life
Janet Hanson paces in front of the whiteboard stretched six feet across the wall of her East Putnam Avenue offices. She ignores the grilled chicken Caesar salad sitting in an unopened clear plastic container on her cluttered desk. She pockets her ringing cellphone. She skips around baskets of wilting birthday flowers vying for space on the floor with photographs and books and paperwork. What has captured her attention is a formula that has gnawed at her for the better part of two decades: E=MC2. The formula, written under the words THE LAB in a sea of red, blue and black scribbles about money market funds and interest rates, refers not to the theory of relativity as explored by Einstein but instead to energy and mass in the business world. Specifically, what makes the Old Boys’ Network tick?
Janet, in Nike running shoes, navy sweatpants and a fuzzy periwinkle sweater covering a mint-green polo shirt, ponders the question aloud. She is an entrepreneur, investment banker, philanthropist, author, cancer survivor and chief cheerleader to a network of 17,000 women. Often, like today, she assumes the role of social scientist.
Gather a group of Yale coeds in a room, she says, and ask them to secretly predict which women among them will be successful. Janet has done this very thing a number of times. Nearly every time, the women select only a handful of their peers. Ask male students in a group at Yale the same question, however, and they pretty much believe each of their pals will find success. Why the disparity?
“Historically, only a few positions have existed for women at the top of the corporate ladder, so girls perceive there is a ‘grab-a-thon’ for what’s there,” Janet says, her blue eyes twinkling under auburn-colored hair. “They think they have to step over each other or push each other out of the way to get to those spots. That’s not necessarily the case today. So women have to be able to convert the friendships they have to business relationships.” Janet takes a red Sharpie and underlines the word friend three times on the board. “They have to imagine each other as successful.”
Many people imagine Janet Hanson as successful. She is the founder and chairman of Greenwich–based Milestone Capital Management, the only female-owned firm in the United States specializing in institutional cash management. She was a managing director of Lehman Brothers for three years. She is also the founder of Greenwich–based 85 Broads, a global networking group that helps women young and old imagine themselves and their peers as successful, and define and attain that success.
During her career, Janet has swum in success, plunged down from it and grappled her way up again.
Fate brought her to Wall Street in 1977. She graduated from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, then tagged along with a friend on a family sailing trip. Janet played bridge with the friend’s father and listened to his tales of the navy (Janet’s father had been a navy man). He suggested she attend business school, an option she hadn’t considered because, she says, she was “quantitatively ignorant.” (Someone must have felt otherwise, as she landed at Columbia and earned an MBA in finance.) Upon graduation, the friend’s father invited her to join the Manhattan investment firm where he worked, Goldman Sachs.
Janet still remembers walking through the doors at 85 Broad Street. She was twenty-four years old and working on the trading floor, surrounded by men she could listen to and learn from all day long.
“It wasn’t that I was one of the guys, but I was fluent in that language,” she recalls.
“I had landed in Oz.”
She worked in fixed-income sales. Her father was once in sales, too, peddling industrial-strength chain in places like Scranton and Camden.
At Goldman Sachs, Janet held a key to the door but little in terms of accounts. She scoured newspapers and the Yellow Pages searching for clients, but in institutional investing barely any business is found that way. A break came when the only other woman in the division left and distributed her accounts to colleagues. Each man received several accounts. Janet got one: Prudential. A year later Prudential was one of the largest accounts in the fixed-income division.
“One reason Janet became so successful in sales is that she talked to everybody. Janet is one of those people who is an open book. She’ll tell you her most intimate secrets, and that’s how she includes you in her life,” relates Anne Brown Farrell of Greenwich, the first woman to work in fixed-income trading at Goldman. “That’s how she was successful at selling. She would tell people every little detail about her, and they would want to know, ‘What happens next?’ ”
Indeed, Janet’s story was compelling.
By 1986 she was the first female sales manager in Goldman history, a vice president with power, prestige and prominence.
But behind the scenes, all was not rosy. Janet’s marriage had crumbled. Her ex-husband sat directly across from her on the trading floor and regaled her with details of his dates with younger women. Janet had been working such long hours during her meteoric rise that she’d had exactly two dates in the three years following the divorce. At age thirty-four, she felt tired, looked old and drank too much. A star on its ascent, in line to be partner, she quit Goldman cold.
“When I walked out the door, it was if my ties were cut, as if I was suddenly mortal,” she says in her office, her face falling as if she were reliving the experience. “My identity was so tied up with the twenty-seventh floor that it was like somebody took away my cape. The second I was outside, it was as if the doors were closed and you heard all the locks slam shut one by one. I felt like I was the incredible shrinking woman.”
Isolated. Disconnected. Overweight. Forlorn. Some days Janet felt too depressed to get out of bed.
Six months later she was back at Goldman, grateful when a former colleague asked her to work a few days a week on a project in the personnel department. But in personnel, nobody knew Janet had been a player, a hotshot on the trading floor. She languished there until she met Jeff Hanson, also at Goldman. Three weeks after their first date they became engaged. Janet and Jeff married at City Hall, moved into a tiny house in Tarrytown and became the proud parents of daughter Meredith.
But loneliness plagued Janet again. When she reached out to professional friends, they cut her off on the phone midsentence. “Can’t talk now, I’m working,” they’d say. She wrote to Goldman CEO, now New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine, lobbying him to hire her as a coach for Goldman’s female employees. He turned her down. With no one to turn to, Janet started a diary. “I get more and more despondent over my almost complete lack of faith in my ability,” she wrote one day.
“I wish I had a best friend here.” “I wish I had a life here,” she wrote the next day.
Janet’s stark entries grew profoundly more depressing. Jeff struggled to keep aloft a new consulting business, and he and Janet were broke. Their new baby Christopher came into the world and instead of jubilation, Janet plunged further into depression.
“For the next ten months, I battled to keep my head above water. I was mind-numbingly depressed and could barely get myself out of bed in the morning. I hated my life and felt like the walls were closing in on me,” she chronicles in her book More Than 85 Broads. In the book, Janet recounts giving Goldman a third try, this time in asset management, what she called the “female ghetto.” She was an arrogant SOB to her colleagues, and they were equally disdainful of her. She picked up enough knowledge about asset management to leave Goldman for the last time and to start Milestone Capital Management with Jeff.
Milestone grew steadily, but Janet missed her pals at Goldman. One evening, she invited thirty of them to dinner at the Water Club in Manhattan and suggested they form a network. When dinner ended, though, Janet figured she’d never see her colleagues again. Not for lack of want; life was simply too hectic to attend regular gatherings.
Meanwhile, Janet continued to grow Milestone. She hired two technological whizzes who introduced her to the Internet and, while they built support for her money management company, she realized they could also build an electronic network to link together her friends at Goldman. She called it 85 Broads, the name based on Goldman’s New York address, and opened it up to current and former employees of Goldman Sachs. There were no dues, no fees, no board of directors. It was similar to My Space but decades ahead of its time.
That was in 1999. Today, Janet is a coveted speaker at places like Harvard and Wharton. On the shoulders of 85 Broads, she has been lifted and carried. She talks about women and Wall Street from a position of strength, women working together and pooling their intellectual resources, forming their own New Girls’ Network. No man-bashing for Janet. Just positive repositioning.
Younger Broads receive mentoring opportunities on campus and invitations to conferences with women of all ages. They post pages on the 85 Broads website and win automatic membership into the larger groups as they graduate. They join entrepreneurs, CEOs, mothers, teachers, filmmakers, even senate candidates who gather on the site to meet women with similar interests. They explore job opportunities, search for people who share the same alma mater or type of job or hobby, they post profiles, chat about business and learn what the other Broads are up to. Just like the Old Boys do.
It is this ability for intellectual exchange in between changing diapers or scrubbing the kitchen sink that appealed to Greenwich’s Judy Scinto. Judy was pregnant with her third child when she took a quick peek at her computer and noticed that 85 Broads was screening a movie about Enron, a subject that piqued her interest.
“It was like a mental boost. It gave me a sense that you can still identify with women at your firm or at your school,” says Judy, a former equity saleswoman at Goldman with an MBA from the University of Chicago. “Even though you’re out in mommy world where you don’t get enough sleep and your children are doing all the wonderful things they do, you can still log on and be connected. It makes you feel alive on one level.”
Judy tells her story in the Parents section of Janet’s book More Than 85 Broads. The book is filled with insights, anecdotes and advice from ninety-five ambitious women in the network who measure success in different ways: being a patient mother, a present wife, a loyal friend, a rocket scientist, a CEO. In many cases, it chronicles a climb to the top, sometimes grabbing and scratching, and sometimes, as in Judy’s case, watching as others pass by.
“There is a voice to be heard from women who may have left something on the table and are at home with their children. The bottom line is, for women who are intelligent and achievement-oriented and love being a mom and are devoted to their children, no matter what you end up doing, you struggle with it. I think that’s the voice that on some level I represent,” says thirty-six-year-old Judy.
“We view banking as this hermetically sealed place. When you take time out and you’re on the sidelines,” says Judy, “you feel like you’re so far away. But your brain is still the same. With 85 Broads, you’re on the sidelines but there’s a way back in.”
Although Judy contributed to Janet’s book, the pair hadn’t met in person until one evening at Tiffany & Co. on Greenwich Avenue. Black-tied waiters bearing Champagne and finger sandwiches served sixty people gathered to hear Janet discuss her book. It was one of dozens of stops Janet would make from Shanghai to Singapore, Dubai to London, to talk about More Than 85 Broads. While a crowd fawned around Janet like groupies to a star, Judy chatted with Anne Farrell, Janet’s former Goldman colleague in fixed income. Anne, now managing director at Sage Capital, reminisced about the good old days, before computer screens and cellphones, when stacks of paper were piled high next to squelching speakers and open pizza boxes, the trading floor shrouded in a perpetual fog of cigarette smoke.
“I decided the trading floor was too dull, so I started wearing big hats,” Anne joked. To Judy, who started working at Goldman in 1998, Anne’s stories were funny, but in Anne’s day some of them were no laughing matter. For example, when she increased one of her accounts from half a million to five million dollars, a male colleague accused her of having sex with the client to raise the stakes.
Anne’s story is also in the book. Anne and Judy are a generation apart, and they credit the author with bringing them together with like-minded women.
“This is her calling,” Anne says of Janet, pointing to about three dozen women lined up to shake Janet’s hand and tell her their stories. “Janet has always been a Pied Piper. She makes everything seem possible, doable and fun.”
Janet found connections with each woman in the line. One recent Harvard grad, her mother in tow, cornered her for fifteen minutes, talking about playing squash and investment banking and the two young women in the network who graced the cover of Newsweek touting their socially responsible new business.
“What they’ve found out,” Janet tells the rapt young woman, “is that success is happiness.”
Tiffany’s stands a few blocks from the “Clubhouse,” Janet’s nickname for the 85 Broads Unlimited headquarters, which is on the second floor of the Greenwich Bank & Trust building on East Putnam Avenue. One floor up from 85 Broads, Janet presides as chairwoman of Milestone, which Working Mother magazine selected in 2006 as among the “25 Best Small Companies Nationwide.”
But it’s the Clubhouse that fuels Janet’s passion. There, a frenzy of activity is taking place outside her glass-walled office where about a dozen young men and women work on as many tasks. She goes out to speak to a young man editing hours of videotape about HIV that a trio of Broads interns shot in Africa. One desk over, a Dartmouth coed hammers out text for a book on investing for college students. Across the room, two women generate fresh content for the website.
Also juggling a phone is Christie Millard Tully, formerly of Greenwich, who now lives in Norwalk. Christie joined 85 Broads about three months ago. Her harrowing account of how she survived the collapse of Tower 2 while working at Goldman Sachs is chronicled in Janet’s book. Today, Christie is a mom of two toddlers, putting in two days a week at 85 Broads. In between were stints at Thomson Financial and GE in Stamford, but Christie believes she has the best of all possible worlds right now. She is working to launch a new initiative to help women stay engaged and intellectually stimulated, whether they are in the workforce or at home.
Meanwhile, Janet is shaping her network into a media empire. The only thing missing is sales: Janet isn’t selling anything. Instead, she’s spending. By some accounts, she and Jeff pour more than one million dollars a year into the endeavor.
“I’m funding it, and I’m running it off the back of my asset management business.
It’s the single gutsiest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “If you create a medium of exchange with no goal and no pressure and no anxiety of who’s going to win and who’s going to get a job, then you’re all about creating a positive environment.”
Janet relied on this environment during her battle with breast cancer and, later, skin cancer and shared her story on the 85 Broads network. Those few clicks unleashed an outpouring of support and a telling of candid and powerful stories. For many, it was a lifeline. That’s what Janet could have used after leaving Goldman. Now she’s tossing it out to others.